People with diabetes lived longer on lower carb and plant-based diet, study finds

For people with diabetes, eating a lower-carbohydrate diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and relatively few animal products or refined carbohydrates seems to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer.

A new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people with diabetes who avoided the typical high-carb, highly processed, animal product-dense American diet lived longer.

The study followed more than 10,000 people with diabetes from the long-running, female Nurse's Health Study and the male Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Nearly half died during the period under investigation, about 1,400 of them from cardiovascular disease and 900 from cancer.

Their diet was tracked over more than a decade.

Those who ate a lower-carbohydrate diet – except if that diet was considered unhealthy because of high levels of proteins and saturated fats from animal products or refined carbohydrates – had a lower risk of dying.

Truly low carbohydrate diets, such as the ketogenic diet, are feasible in research trials, but may be challenging to adhere to in the real world over the long-term, said Qi Sun, who lead the study.

So he focused on people with diabetes who ate a more realistic 30% to 40% of calories from carbohydrates. In the typical American diet, people get 50% to 60% of their calories from carbohydrates, often in refined carbohydrates, like white bread, white rice, and products made with flour from refined wheat or white rice.

The key, he said, is to avoid sugary drinks, refined carbohydrates like packaged cookies, and unhealthy proteins and fats such as beef and other red meats and high-fat dairy products.

"Improving diet quality" by eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, he said, may be the essential dietary advice, regardless of which healthful diets patients try to consume. Eating a high quality diet may also help with weight control.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best diet for diabetes: Reduce carbs, processed food and meat